KLOBUCHAR: “We need transparency because these tools can hurt millions of people”
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing titled “Platform Transparency: Understanding the Impact of Social Media,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need for increased transparency with social media algorithms.
Klobuchar highlighted how her Platform Accountability and Transparency Act would strengthen transparency and bolster users’ privacy, noting: “We need transparency because these tools can hurt millions of people. That's why this bill is so important. The Platform and Accountability and Transparency Act will make it so companies like Facebook can’t block researchers from looking into their platforms and algorithms.”
This bipartisan legislation, which Klobuchar released in December with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform data.
Klobuchar also underscored the need to establish new rules of the road and hold technology companies accountable: “What you see…is that the influence of these platforms is just simply unprecedented. The data shows that they make more money off of us than other industrialized nations, just simply because we don't have any rules of the road in place. And for so long, we've been hearing, ‘Trust us we've got this.’ And I think that that era of blind trust is coming to an end.”
Klobuchar leads the American Innovation and Choice Online Act with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), bipartisan legislation to restore online competition by preventing technology companies from abusing their market power to harm competition, online businesses, and consumers. In February, the legislation was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 16-6 vote, making it the first major bill on technology competition to advance to the Senate floor since the dawn of the Internet.
Thank you so much to both of you. And thank you, Senator Coons for your leadership on this bill. Senator Portman, thank you, Senator Sasse for that great description. I had one mom tell me that it's like she keeps trying to get control of what her kids are seeing. But it's like water that's coming out of a faucet that won't stop and it's overflowing and she's just standing out there with a mop trying to do it and she can't. And so, I think so much of this has to do with the magnification, the amplification, of what you have called this kind of polarized speech – I don’t want to get your words wrong, what you just said – political weirdos, yes. Okay, there you go.
And I think what you see with that is that the influence of these platforms is just simply unprecedented. And even though these platforms are seemingly free, they're really not because you're seeing advertising and they're making money off of you, and then they use the information they have and then make more money off of you. And in fact, the number of - even looking at the data shows that they make more money off of us than other industrialized nations, just simply because we don't have any rules of the road in place. And for so long, we've been hearing, “Trust us we've got this.” And I think that that era of blind trust is coming to an end. And that's why you see the work that's going on on the competition side. I'm also on the Commerce Committee. That's why you see the work that's going on with updating some of the kids laws. And that's why you're seeing the work that's going on privacy, and then of course on algorithms and getting more transparency.
You know, we all know that you can't yell fire in a crowded theater. That is not considered free speech. That's not considered okay. And the way I think about it is if you're in a theater, okay, someone yells fire, that’s not your fault, but you better have exits so people can get out of there. But if you had speakers and you amplify that guy yelling fire in all of your multiplex theaters deliberately, that would be a problem if you thought somehow you’d make more money. And that is kind of what we're talking about here with algorithms.
This hearing is also about how quickly misinformation and disinformation can spread online. A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate identified a dozen specific content producers as the original sources of an estimated 65 percent of Coronavirus disinformation online.
We are literally – people die when this stuff is not corrected. We need transparency because these tools can hurt millions of people. That's why this bill is so important. The Platform and Accountability and Transparency Act, it will make it so companies like Facebook can’t block researchers from looking into their platforms and algorithms. And I note that President Obama touted the importance of this legislation in his recent speech at Stanford. And I am committed, and I know Senator Coons is, to see this through. And so I want to thank all of you. I look forward to reading your testimony and I know my staff will be here as well. So thanks for coming before us today.